I was thrilled to be able to attend Beta Play‘s EP release show on October 17, 2015 at Blind Tiger in Santa Barbara, CA. I first became familiar with the band when they were known as Tommy and the High Pilots and opened for the band Toad the Wet Sprocket in May 2014. They were fantastic. Bought their most recent album that night and had all the band members sign it and met four of the nicest, friendliest guys. The band is made up of phenomenal, charismatic lead singer and guitarist, Tom Cantillon; keyboardist, synthesizer/laptop master, and sometimes guitar player, Mike Cantillon; bassist and newest member, Mike Dyer; and adorable drummer (who can drum and chew gum), Matt Palermo (ex-Ludo). I went on to see them play live nine times last year, during the middle of which the band changed their name to Beta Play.
There was a long stretch of time this year where they didn’t play any shows while they were recording their EP. As one of the perks of their Pledge Music campaign to raise funds to release the EP, I was able to see them perform just a week before this show at a local backyard cookout, where they were very generous with their time, performing not just their songs but a few cover requests too.
I didn’t keep track of the set lists for the two opening bands on the night of the 17th, but I wanted to mention them here as they are worth checking out. “The Maybe Somedays” performed some solid indie rock tunes as people filtered into the venue. The lead singer, Billy McIntyre, has a good voice that has a quality about it that brings to mind Green Day‘s Billie Joe Armstrong (he probably gets that comparison a lot). The bassist, Yutaka Sao, played with some style, including a little behind the head action on the last song. Check out their song “All At Once” from their debut EP, All We Have is Everything.
The middle band, Layovr, had more of a funky, island rock style. Each of the players were clearly consummate musicians and showed off their abilities in some extended jams throughout their set. I enjoyed an unexpected musical cover toward the end of the set of The Outfield’s “Your Love.” I’m not sure if many others in the venue were familiar with the song though. Check out their first official music video of their song “Dusk ‘Til Dawn.”
Beta Play kicked off their set with a new song co-written with one of my favorite singers, Glen Phillips, (front man of the aforementioned Toad the Wet Sprocket),
called “The Way We Play.” Tom has previously spoken that the impetus behind it is that feeling of being free, connected, and enjoying the moment you are in. “Innocent” is a firecracker of a song, included on the Tommy and the High Pilots album Only Human, and one of my favorites. This one always sounds fantastic live.
Next up was the first song on the newly released Beta Play EP, “I Am the Prey.” This feels like a dance club kind of number, which reminds me of early ’80s Duran Duran synth; however, I feel like there is something missing in the musical arrangement of this song, that I can’t quite put my finger on. Perhaps it needs a second voice responding in the chorus similar to what happens at the end. Or maybe it is additional instrumentation that could be added to create more atmosphere during the musically sparse verses. It is my only bit of constructive criticism on the EP; I am sure other people love this song just as it is!
“Heaven is Under the Sun” lyrically covers a topic most people tend to experience at some point in their lives, which is another individual trying to impose his/her religious convictions on you and judging you for what you believe in/or your lack of belief. It is lyrically strong; one of my favorite lines is in reference to those who may be accepted into Heaven: “Invite me to your party, it’s an eternal one, but I’ve been tiny dancing, around with Elton John, you say he’s not allowed in; I wouldn’t go in without him.”
The best song on Only Human, “Devil to Pay,” was re-worked and given a new title, “Do You Love Me,” for the new EP. The new version is a more brooding than the one on the previous album or the version on the Live at Studio Delux EP. This is such a well-written song, with perfect harmonies provided by Mike Cantillon. I could imagine this song performed in other music styles and it working.
Beta Play has been performing “Midnight Drive,” a tale of dewy-eyed young love/lust, for over a year. It was the song the band was in the middle of playing at their 2014 Christmas show, which I attended, when Tom received a massive electric shock on stage that closed down the show and sent him to the ER. This near-death experience was part of his inspiration in writing the next song they played, which is the second track on the new EP, “Electric 22.” With its themes of youth, life choices, and death, slow-grinding chorus, and introspective and musically robust bridge, Electric 22 is perfection. (I’ve borrowed a line from the bridge for the blog post title.) This song should be getting some serious radio play on a variety of music-oriented formats (any stations that would play The Killers should be broadcasting Beta Play’s songs). Check out Beta Play’s official music video of “Electric 22” or see the performance of the song as recorded at the EP release show.
Beta Play’s cover of Talking Heads song, “This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody),” is a classic crowd-pleaser (link is to a recorded version of this song from Live From Studio Delux EP). At every show, Tom remarks, “There is no such thing as a wrong dance move.” When they play this song, he always let’s loose with his own moves and often hops off the stage and dances with the fans while the band vamps and Mike Dyer keeps everyone moving with the bass line. It is a great way of getting the crowd fired up. Tom is also riveting to watch as a performer; you can see how completely the music is part of him when he is on stage. He has that X factor thing in spades.
Next up was another great song with strong vocals, “Somebody Make a Move,” from Only Human, which also has a version on Live From Studio Delux. This contains my favorite misheard lyric. The line is, “Time is going to heal you,” but some people hear it as, “Tommy’s going to heal you.” Though Tom can be a humble guy and likely wouldn’t write such a self-referential lyric, I am sure many fans agree that Tom’s music has helped them through all sorts of difficulties.
Beta Play finished the set with the last song on the new EP, “It’s About Fucking Time.” This is a powerful song with lyrics about experiencing divorce from a child’s point of view. This song builds musically as it progresses to its strong, practically cathartic, bridge. It concludes with the other three band members repeatedly singing “We all lift each other up” under Tom’s emotional vocal delivery of the refrain. This is a masterfully written and arranged song and gives me a lot of hope for where the band is headed in their future music.
For the encore, the band decided to lighten the mood after the previous heavy number with a cover of Michael Jackson’s song, “The Way You Make Me Feel” (link is from the backyard cookout the previous week). You can tell these guys love music and they stand on the shoulders of the many different artists they listen to and learn from. They are not only good enough to convincingly cover the King of Pop, but to perform the song so as to simultaneously pull the whole crowd into that “living in the moment” feeling they wrote about in “The Way We Play,” which is a beautiful thing to witness. The song “Outta My Head” was a perfect choice for closing the show on a high energy level. A straight-up pop tune from Only Human, it has a ridiculously catchy chorus and a driving rhythm that begs to be danced to.
Beta Play is touring through the end of November with Plain White T’s and Matt McAndrew. Go see them, meet them after the show, and buy the EP and all the merchandise you can carry! If you love Tom’s voice like I do, and haven’t already bought the back catalog of Tommy and the High Pilots material, purchase their last album Only Human. Also worth having are Sawhorse Sessions, American Riviera, and Live at Studio Delux.